Thursday, February 26, 2009

Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou - Ethiopiques Vol. 21: Piano Solo (Buda Musique, 2006)

A hybrid of American piano blues and traditional Ethiopian and European classical scales. And though the music speaks for itself, Tsegue-Maryam Guebrou has quite a story behind her (detailed in the review below.) Out of all the Ethiopiques releases I've heard this is by far my favorite and that's really saying a lot, Buda Musique has managed to put out over 20 releases and almost every one of them contains a unique and unfamiliar sound. Highly recommended for those searching for nostalgia in the sometimes alienating world of Ethiopian music.

Here's a review:

"Okay, we can all breathe a sigh of relief. The always amazing Ethiopiques series continues on past volume 20 with no end in sight. We were wrongly led to believe that volume 20 was to be the last in this, one of our all time favorite series, and we were heartbroken. On top of that, the final installment was quite surprisingly a live recording of modern day American musicians jamming with an Ethiopian band. It was still cool, but it was a bit tough to figure out why the curaters of this series would choose to go out on that kind of admittedly anticlimactic note, when there were certainly hundreds of buried treasures from the golden age of Ethiopian music that most definitely deserved to be unearthed. This newst volume quickly sets everything right, being entirely the solo piano of a woman named Tsegue-Maryam Guebrou. Her playing is devastatingly lovely and haunting. A curious hybrid of old time jazz and classical, but still truly Ethiopian. Dark and contemplative, moody but subtly playful as well. Culled mainly from recordings from the late 40's early 50's, a period during which Guebrou had recently left the convent due to illness, and then continued to compose and perform as a way of raising money for charity. And THAT's on the heels of having moved to Egypt and then returned to Ethiopia a figure of high society, her dream of playing piano dashed by the Emperor, which led her to sickness and then near death, she even received the last rites, survived and then joined the Imperial Guard, went back to school to study business finally fleeing to join a convent and become a nun. All the while continuing to play music, in fact she continues to perform to this day, in Ethiopia where she still lives, four of her most recent recordings (from 1996) are included here as well.
Her story is amazing, the liner notes go into great detail about her fantastic and adventurous life, but her music is equally as remarkable, the sound and feel is so dense with memory and imagery, musical but somehow quite visual, warm and woozy, a fuzzy, sepia toned old timey feel, due in no small part to the recording, which is quite reminiscent of old 78's, the soundtrack to movie Crumb, that sort of thing, dark rumbling low notes underpin sweet swirls and delicate flurries of minor key melody, sweet and lowdown for sure, warm evenings, back porches, big beautifully appointed parlors, huge empty fields, grass waving in the breeze, long late night wanders, moonlight strolls, so completely dreamy and lovely. Definitely one of our favorites so far in the series. We hope it never ends!"

Also, through you can teach underprivileged African children how to play an instrument while learning about traditional African music yourself! It seems like a pretty legit operation and if you happen to play an instrument and you're interested in having a first hand exposure to Africa and it's wonderful and diverse music and culture, I'd really recommend looking into it. And hey even if you don't qualify, you can donate 15 dollars and they'll send you this very cd as a thank you, WOW!

The links for this post will eventually be deleted.
Thanks and enjoy!


Friday, February 20, 2009

Ralph White - Navasota River Devil Squirrel (Mystra / Spirit of Orr, 2008)

For me, everything about Ralph White screams that sort of purity that once was prominent in music. I can't say anything that would do the man justice so here are a few reviews.

"Non-traditional traditional? Indo-African mountain songs? Rocking-chair string ephemera? What longtime Austinite and former Bad Liver Ralph White puts on albums and onstage is so mind-boggling and vast, it forces those of us in the description business down a treacherous path. His five-string fretless banjos and African kalimbas – resonating thumb pianos – mix with accordion and fiddle to create an Eastern Appalachian sound, but it's much more complicated than that. White's second solo release, Navasota River Devil Squirrel, is displacement on disc. It's the culmination of years of experimentation and travel woven into a magic carpet, jetting off hither and fro, crossing continent boundaries and civil wars. Opening traditional "Look Down That Road," transforms into a psychedelic atlas on White's twangy voice and hypnotic kalimba. Originals like instrumental fiddle/accordion romp "Navasota River Devil Squirrel 1 & 2," the vocally distorted "History 1 (Conspiracy Theory)," and eerie closer "Devil Squirrel 3" saddle up alongside early-century fables as though they were long-lost cousins. White's melodies and lyrics scratch the surface of the Old World, leaving just a contemporary hint of now. Therein lies the magic."

"Totally fantastic slice of genuine American primitive genius: White was a member of the punk/bluegrass outfit Bad Livers and this amazing solo album was originally released as a CD-R in 2007 and now gets a hip limited vinyl pressing thanks to Joshua Burkett’s new imprint, Mystra, in an edition of 600 copies with crude, hand-glued cover art and insert. White’s most immediate formal model is obviously Dock Boggs, with that same kinda lonesome, hypnotic delivery, though the music is more ornate and drug-complex, combining beautiful matrices of live and overdubbed wooden 6 string banjo, violin, accordion and kalimba. The tracks combine traditional and originals, with recurring lines and mythic characters freely wandering from one to the other. White magnifies the drone that was always at the heart of the music of Dock Boggs and the early Stanley Brothers, situating it between source and spectrasound as beautifully as Matthew Valentine, Joshua, Dredd Foole or Willie Lane. His vocals have a particularly spell-binding quality to them, zoning out into smears of sound and picking their way around the words like birds on a corpse and the arrangements are gloriously detailed, webs of strange strings that vibrate in complex, primitively executed architectures. This is as fine a navigation of the original American mystery zone as I can recall, a great, oddball/loner slice of free folk that comes from deep within the tradition while still remaining convincingly other. Highly recommended."

Probably my favorite release of 2008 and limited to 600 copies, I suggest picking up your own if you really like it. I will also be deleting the link so get it quick!


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Jordi Savall & Wieland Kuijken - Sainte-Colombe: Concerts à Deux Violes Esgales Volumes I & II (Astree Records, 1976 / 1992)

First post! I'm really excited to share two of my favorite classical albums. Sainte-Colombe really understood the potential of the viola de gamba and Savall and Kuijken perform his work with absolute beauty. Prior to these releases, the viol was virtually forgotten until it was discovered by the author Pascal Quignard in the early 90's. Quignard then wrote a book based one of Saint-Colombe's students, Marin Marais, and later went on to develop a screenplay based on the book with director Alain Corneau. Jordi Savall provided the soundtrack. Even though the soundtrack is really good in it's own right, Savall and Kuijken's perfect execution on these recordings and the amazing quality of the recordings themselves really give Saint-Colombe's compositions justice. Even though the albums have been gaining some attention over the past few years, I feel they are still criminally underrated. If you like these you'll be excited to hear that more volumes will be posted in the future. Enjoy!

Volume I

Volume II